According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, up to 50% of all Aussie teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. Early career teacher attrition rates are an ongoing issue and some reasons for premature leaving, as stated in a document by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), include high work load, lack of support from leadership and lack of ongoing employment. What can be done? According to the same document, factors that improve teacher retention are supportive school environments, job security and adequate preparation for teaching practices and procedures. Now, the last factor is within our power to improve so let’s begin there.
We all understand the preventative measures are superior to reactive approaches. But how far can our proactiveness take us?
With the new academic year just around the corner, it’s time to re-think our routines and procedures within our classrooms to ensure a smooth sailing term and, by extension, year. It begins before our students enter our classrooms. Note that I believe that it is best to model and explicitly teach positive behaviour and to consistently recognise and praise positive behaviour. Where possible, I use non-verbal communication in conjunction with direct instructions to teach positive behaviour.
A Simple Classroom Routine
- Before entering the classroom. E.g. “Put your food/drinks away”, “Enter quietly”, Gesture for students to take off their hats by physically taking off your invisible hat on your head (Works like a charm!).
- Beginning the lesson. E.g. “Take out your workbook, ruler and pen”, Do not begin until everyone is quiet (I’ve learnt this the hard way) and do not be afraid to wait like an awkward (stern-looking) turtle until everyone is quiet. Speak in a softer and lower register to affirm your position. Call out people who are doing the right thing. “Ethan is ready, thank you Ethan”.
- During the lesson. E.g. “We are doing this activity for 15 minutes and stopping at 2:25pm”- Write the end time on the board. Let students know when they have 5 minutes left. “First row will collect their materials first and then go to the side bench to set up and wait for further instruction. Then, the second row will collect their materials and set up. Any there questions?”. Always ask for questions or ask students to repeat part of what you have instructed to ensure that you have been understood. Try not to stop mid-activity as it disrupts the flow of the lesson.
- End of the lesson. E.g. “Quietly pack up and stand behind your desk”, “Look around and pick up 5 bits of rubbish and put it in the bin”. This is for your benefit. The last thing you want to do is stay back after each class to clean up after your students.
Thinking back at my earlier experiences within the classroom, I find it funny how a few simple things could have solved some of my biggest headaches. Classroom routines need to be explicitly taught in the first couple weeks of classes. Only when these routines and procedures are in place can we focus on inspiring and supporting our students to explore our subjects.
Be firm. Be consistent.